Arianna Schiro

Arianna is in Spain and Germany on her year abroad from University of Aberdeen. She is linked with Porthlethen Academy in Aberdeenshire.

Christmas in Spain: a round-up of traditions and things I've noticed

Hello everyone,

It is Arianna and, as you can probably guess by the title of this post here on the blog, I would like to give you an insight into Christmas here in Spain and the similarities and the differences that I noticed between this and the Scottish one.

The period leading up to Christmas I would say is pretty similar to my experience of Christmas in the UK: Christmas songs playing in every store, lots of shopping for gifts and lights everywhere in the streets.

The climate though, as you can imagine, was pretty different, and to be honest, didn't feel very Christmassy: the sun was shining and the temperatures never dropped below 10-15 degrees. What a difference in comparison with Scotland!

What I perceived was different about the Christmas here in Spain, and especially in Andalucía where I am, is the fact that here it was much more religious. Of course, there is the pre-Christmas rush to get everyone the perfect gift, but aside from that, here the atmosphere was much more linked to religion, as Andalucía is a very Catholic region in Spain, perhaps the most Catholic.

Everyone went to church both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I went into a church in the morning of the 25th and I was surprised - not to say shocked - by the amount of people there were listening at the mass: there was hardly any space to even stand. What I found even more surprising is that there was every age group, from young children with their families all the way up to elderly people; everyone was concentrated on the mass and the atmosphere was very solemn.

Another thing which I noticed is that Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day itself. During the 24th I was walking through the city and it was absolutely empty: every shop was closed and all the bars and restaurants where closed that evening. In Spain, in fact, everyone spends the day at home with their families, preparing all sorts of delicious Spanish food to have for their Christmas Eve dinner and exchanging presents with their loved ones.

On Christmas Day, the city was much more alive. There were people walking through the streets and all the restaurants where full for lunch, but the shops were still all closed.

Another difference is that here there isn’t such a thing as Boxing Day.

This probably caught my attention as I work part-time as a sales adviser alongside studying at Aberdeen University. The shops have their sales on a bit later in Spain than in the UK, and I think this is a huge positive. I have never personally worked during Boxing Day, as I’ve been always lucky enough to get to go home in Italy for Christmas during my two years in Aberdeen, but I know a lot of people who do. They all say they cannot enjoy their Christmas properly as they need to get to bed early in order to go to work the following morning.

I personally think this is very sad; Christmas should just be a pause from the frenetic every day life to spend with the people you love the most and should be enjoyed to the fullest, not thinking that you need to end your fun earlier because of work the following day. Since I’ve moved away from my family, I realise how important is to share moments like Christmas with my loved ones. Living abroad has taught me a lot about appreciating the few weeks that I get to spend with them.

Going back to Spanish traditions and festivities, the other very important day I wanted to tell you about is the 6th of January: the “Día de los Reyes”.

This day is again linked to the tradition of the Bible. The story says that three Kings, also known as “Reyes Magos”, took a journey to go and meet Jesus after his birth to bring him three gifts: gold, frankiincense and myrrh, every one of which has a symbolic meaning. Gold has always been a very noble material, appreciated and appropriate for kings, hence it is brought to Jesus as he is, in Christianity, the King of kings. Frankincense had always been offered to gods in ancient Greek and Roman mythology and the gesture of offering it to Jesus implies that he is God. Lastly there is myrrh, which was used to oil the corps of the deaths, and this implies that Jesus nature is human and that he would die for the salvation of humankind.

During the previous day, the 5th of January, there is the so-called “Cabalgata de Reyes” which is kind of a parade where the Kings enter the city and give sweets and candies to kids. Linked to this is the fact that, originally, kids used to get presents for this day instead of Christmas, which is something that has been introduced more recently and has been imported from other cultures. It is an important festival in Andalucía and especially in Granada, whose “Cabalgata” is considered to be the oldest and the most important, not only in Spain, but in the whole world.

I hope that you found this article interesting and that has given you the chance to deepen your knowledge of Spanish culture.

I thought I would do a specific post about the traditions of Spanish Christmas as I found it very interesting. I will tell you in another post what I’ve personally done this past Christmas, as doing the two together would have resulted in a very long post.

Sending you lots of hugs from Spain.


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